You may remember when I started the planting for this season some months ago I decided to experiment with the concept of the Three Sisters circle. The idea originated with the Native Americans (is that what their known as or is there a more politically correct term?). Their traditional diet consisted predominately of three vegetables (plus meat of course), corn, beans and pumpkin and they grew the three together in circular plantings. You start with a circle of corn (in my case eight stalks in a 1 x 1m square). Once the corn gets to roughly 10cm tall you plant a climbing bean at the base of each corn stalk. Finally a week after the beans appear you plant 4 pumpkin seeds in the corners of the bed. Well that’s what I read and did initially. I’ve since done a little more reading on the concept and found that you could alternatively plant the corn in a block of sixteen in the same area and then sixteen beans. I’ve also read that you should start with the pumpkin – which makes sense considering how small my pumpkins still are.
The three different plants all offer something special to the bed. The corn provides the poles for the beans to climb up, the beans add nitrogen to the soil for the corn and pumpkins and the pumpkin vines spread out underneath the corn and beans to act as a mulch stopping weeds and retaining moisture. It all seems to make perfect sense.
Other than planting the corn, bean and pumpkin seeds I’ve done very little to this bed and so far I’ve had fewer issues with this area than any other in the garden. I lost a couple of corn stalks to snails so grew some extras under glass and planted them to replace the lost ones. Similarly I lost a few beans and one pumpkin seedling. I replanted the bean seeds, but didn’t both with the pumpkin, so I only have three of these. I did lay a little snail bait down just as the second lot of bean seedlings were coming up to ensure I had one for each corn stalk (though I think I’m still missing one). I haven’t mulched the bed as I have the others because I want to test the theory of the pumpkin vines acting as mulch (hence my thinking that I should have planted these first so they would be covering more of the bed by now) and I very rarely have to weed in there. They also get some liquid fertiliser when I do the other garden beds.
I have corn growing in another area (just a few left over seedlings I stuck in on a whim), but the ones in the three sisters bed look ten times healthier. The beans have been consistently more vigorous in this bed than the ones on the other side of the garden and I lost far fewer to snails. They started flowering earlier even though they were planted later and they have required little training to start winding their way around the corn. The only problem with this theory was that a few of the beans took off so quickly they outgrew their corresponding corn stalks for a while. Thankfully the corn then grew taller and now they are keeping pace with each other. The pumpkins though have been a little slow and have only recently started to spread their vines a little.
So far it has been a fascinating process and I’m really interested to compare the yield of this square compared with other parts of the garden, especially where I have the same plants growing.
This garden has been something of an inspiration for me. Since I started doing the research for it I came across a book called One Magic Square by Lolo Houbein. She uses the idea of companion planting or at least plants that like each other well enough and lists loads of different combinations to plant in a 1x1m square garden bed. The guide is quite specific, divided into spring/summer and autumn/winter beds with certain ones following each other so that things that take longer to mature (like garlic and onions) stay in the bed while you replant the other areas. She describes several different salad plots, stir fry plots, pasta/pizza plots, a root vegetables plot, curry plots and then some more unusual ones like the anti-oxidant plot and the anti-cancer plots. I had borrowed the book from the library and have renewed the loan several times. I think I’m going to have to photocopy the section with all the plots outlined as there are so many I want to have a go at. Has anyone else looked at this book or tried any of her planting guides?